Posts Tagged ‘Climate change’

Citizen Scientists Tackle Climate Change

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Lorelei Goff

In late March the sunlight falls in tepid, dappled patterns through the canopy of branches to the forest floor in Walker Valley, Tenn., home to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. Red maple leaves burst from swollen buds and bird-foot violets unfurl diminutive petals. A familiar melody warbles through the air. The black-throated green warbler darts from tree to tree. His yellow face scans the forest from beneath an olive crown, a bib of black outlining his white belly.

The Metcalf siblings – Joshua, Daniel, Hannah and Sarah – visit a Tremont phenology plot to take notes on April 25, 2014. Photo by Karen Metcalf

The Metcalf siblings – Joshua, Daniel, Hannah and Sarah – visit a Tremont phenology plot to take notes on April 25, 2014. Photo by Karen Metcalf

Once welcomed as a sign of the forest’s constant seasonal cycles, the male warbler arrives in Walker Valley more than two weeks earlier than he did 20 years ago. That has Tiffany Beachy, Tremont’s citizen science coordinator, wondering if the warbler’s song is an ode to climate change.

Scientists at Tremont are using phenology — the recurring plant and animal life cycles of species in a particular region — to monitor changes such as the warbler’s early arrival. Observations recorded by citizens over the past 30 years can be used to determine if the changes are related to climate change.

Karen Metcalf and her children have watched the changes in Walker Valley for more than five years as citizen science volunteers. Daniel, 10, Hannah, 14, and Sarah, 18, record observations about trees, plants and birds, and take part in bird banding and butterfly tagging as part of their homeschool education.

“I think my kids are more aware if they spend time actually being part of the scientific process,” says Metcalf.

“It’s neat to know that what I’m doing will go into that bigger research,” says daughter Hannah. “It’ll be cool to see, when people gather it and study it, how it all comes together.”

Frank Whetstone and his mother Stacey help catch and tag Monarch butterflies during their fall migration. They also participate in vegetation analysis and pond-breeding amphibian monitoring at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. Photo by Tiffany Beachy.

Frank Whetstone and his mother Stacey help catch and tag Monarch butterflies during their fall migration. They also participate in vegetation analysis and pond-breeding amphibian monitoring at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. Photo by Tiffany Beachy.

Mac Post is a retired Oak Ridge National Laboratories environmental scientist. He used observations from citizen scientists to look at growing seasons for climate modeling while at Oak Ridge. He now monitors phenology plots and trains other citizen scientists at Tremont.

He says the value of citizen science goes beyond the information gathered.

“It gets people involved in understanding the scientific process and understanding what the source of information is and how the information is used and gets them to appreciate those things more,” Post says.

Beachy says citizen science has been around for several hundred years. She attributes its recent growth, in part, to the scope of the climate change problem and the need for large amounts of data.

According to Beachy, citizen scientists form the backbone of Tremont’s research, including a phenology project started in 2010. The project monitors eight plots of land dispersed throughout different forest types and elevations within walking distance of the campus. Citizen scientist volunteers visit the plots each week and record the seasonal changes of various species. Researchers are especially interested to see if the migratory arrival of birds changes over time in conjunction with the changes in the leaf-out of the trees and the availability of food resources.

“It’s very specific and detailed, so we get a very good picture, a snapshot, of what’s going on in the forest at that moment,” Beachy says.

“It’s hard to say that what we’re seeing so far is directly related to climate change, because we’ve seen it for a short period of time,” she adds. “But what I do notice, what I’ve seen in just the last few years, is lots of extremes.”

Beachy says the Tremont institute is working with research partners to analyze the accumulated data in the future as part of long-term climate change research.

The volunteers have contributed more than 2,000 hours to gathering data — an amount that would be impossible without citizen scientists.

The Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, N.C., found a different way to approach plot-based monitoring. The station hosts a planned garden of native plants and is the model for a network of similar gardens in the region that will allow scientists to compare data on the same species in different areas. Volunteers can record observations by visiting the Phenology Garden in person, or by visiting the website at highlandsbiological.org/phenology-garden and using the “Phenocam” webcam.

Trail Science

The Appalachian Trail MEGA-Transect phenology project monitors changes on a much larger scale. Volunteers collect information along the trail, from Georgia to Maine. Laura Belleville, Conservation Director at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, says the project began in earnest two and a half years ago.

“Our data is collected by trained volunteers — we’re always looking for new volunteers — at identified sites, to monitor specific species,” Belleville says. “That then can be rolled up to look at long-term trends with regard to the timing of bud release or flowering along the Appalachian Trail corridor.”

The program is too young to reveal any concrete conclusions about climate change on the trail, but the data has provided indicators of environmental health along the trail and is shared with the National Phenological Network to monitor changes over the long term.

“It’s a great opportunity to get outside and participate in a very large-scale scientific research project, and help us collectively understand the potential impacts of climate change,” says Belleville.

Is Climate Change for the Birds?

The National Audubon Society’s Christmas bird count encompasses much of the North American continent and may be the longest-running phenology project to date. It began 115 years ago and boasts tens of thousands of volunteers who count the bird population across the nation during a three-week period in December and January.

“The data that’s been collected over the century-plus gives us a good snapshot of the current bird distribution and how it’s changed,” says Curtis Smalling, director of Land Bird Conservation for Audubon North Carolina.

A landmark report based on volunteer-collected data and published by Audubon in 2009 shows that about a third of the bird species had shifted measurably north during that time.

The data was also used to publish another study in September 2014, “Birds and Climate Change,” that predicts what could happen over the next 80 years.

“The take-home message from the climate report is half the birds that breed in the U.S. are at risk from climate change,” Smalling says.

“Will they adapt? Will some species go extinct? We just don’t know. They’ve never had to adapt at this speed. And really, that makes the citizen science that informed those original reports that much more important,” he says.

Knowledge is Power

Data is a problem, according to Dr. Walter Smith, assistant professor at the University of Virginia at Wise, home to the student-led Southwest Virginia Citizen Science Initiative.

“We really don’t have a good handle on where certain species even live in the area, because some areas have been so heavily under-sampled,” Smith says. “And so for us, citizen science was a way to address that.”

Citizen observations from the Norton, Va., area led researchers to discover a previously-unknown and unusually abundant population of the secretive green salamander species. Information gleaned from studies at this site has led to more than 35 new populations of the species being discovered across southwest Virginia, as well as new insight into possible conservation threats facing the species. Photo by Walter Smith.

Citizen observations from the Norton, Va., area led researchers to discover a previously-unknown and unusually abundant population of the secretive green salamander species. Information gleaned from studies at this site has led to more than 35 new populations of the species being discovered across southwest Virginia, as well as new insight into possible conservation threats facing the species. Photo by Walter Smith.

The Southwest Virginia initiative is a partnership between UVA and iNaturalist, an online biodiversity social network collecting data for scientific research. Smith says the iNaturalist partnership allows citizen scientists to gather data on a larger scale than the scientific community can cover, or from private property that is inaccessible to scientists.

“When they see wildlife either on their property or hiking, they take a photograph of it,” he says. “That becomes an observation that’s uploaded to iNaturalist that can actually be used by scientists as data on biodiversity.”

Smith counts the two year old project a success, with nearly 4,000 individual wildlife observations by close to 300 volunteers capturing nearly 700 different species across the region. The information goes into a repository called the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and is accessible to anyone around the globe.

He hopes citizen science will inform experts and the public about how the planet is changing and how best to respond to it.

The Audubon Society’s Curtis Smalling agrees. “For us, the whole climate debate is about getting good information, more than politicizing it,” he says. “We really need good data.”

Become a Citizen Scientist

Citizen science is a rapidly growing movement of people participating in research across many disciplines. Volunteers contribute their time and observation skills, while doing things they love, to help build databases scientists use to conduct their research. Citizen science is a potent tool that has a real impact on how the public understands science, from climate change to astronomy to medicine.
Check out these links to help monitor climate change:

  • Are you into diatoms? Mollusks? Amphibians? Upload photographs of what you love on iNaturalist and become part of a global network of professional and amateur naturalists at: inaturalist.org
  • Help scientists meet their goal of 1.5 million plant and animal observations by contributing to the National Phenology Network at: usanpn.org/natures_notebook
  • Timing is everything for Project Budburst! Find out why: budburst.org
  • Want to know why Cornell University thinks citizen science is for the birds? Visit: birds.cornell.edu/citscitoolkit
  • Or visit scistarter.com/index.html to find your niche from a list of 600 citizen science projects covering many subjects

PJM Analysis Makes Economic Case for Clean Power Plan

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Eliza Laubach

A region-wide electric grid operating company, PJM, released a report in March analyzing how states could comply with a proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule requiring that power plants cut carbon dioxide emissions.

The company, which extends into 14 states across the Northeast and Midwest, described lessened costs if states work together to mitigate climate change through increased renewable energy exchanges. These allow states to trade credits for renewable energy produced, which advances solar or wind power where it is already well-established and helps states that cannot easily meet the new carbon regulations.

In doing so, the region may see lower wholesale energy prices, the PJM report said, due to the investment in renewables, whose prices are steadily dropping. Natural gas will factor into overall energy prices as power plants switch to burning the more abundant, less costly fossil fuel. The report encouraged states to address energy efficiency potential, the cheapest source of energy, in both grid transmission and in homes and businesses where electricity is used.

New Studies Look at Southeast, Climate Change

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Eliza Laubach

Scientists gained new insight into how effectively forests capture carbon dioxide and mitigate climate change. Adolescent forests absorb more carbon than young or old forests, the study, published in Scientific Reports, found. National Forest Service researchers observed southeastern forests in 11 states, many in Appalachia, and found that disturbance and land-use changes are important considerations when assessing the region’s carbon absorption potential.

Carbon dioxide emissions greatly impact climate change, and forests absorb the gas through photosynthesis. The Southeast contains more forested land than 96 percent of the countries who reported to the United Nations, and southeastern forests produce around 15 percent of the world’s wood products.

Changing weather patterns may bring more tornadoes to the Southeast, according to a study published in Climatic Change. Scientists at the College of DuPage compared climate modeling data from 1980-1990 to predictions for 2080-2090 and forecasted more severe spring thunderstorms that breed tornadoes across the Southeast, especially in Tennessee and Kentucky.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helps residents affected by the most severe weather, announced that states without a hazard mitigation plan that addresses climate change will lose funding starting in 2016.

Obama Orders More Climate Change Mitigation

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

President Obama signed an executive order in March to address human-caused climate change by cutting federal agencies’ greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent and increasing their renewable energy generation by 30 percent. The goals will be based on 2008 levels. The federal government is the largest consumer of energy in the United States.

Virginia lawmakers act on energy bills

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - posted by hannah
There has been no shortage of activity on energy policy during Virginia’s 2015 legislative session.

There has been no shortage of activity on energy policy during Virginia’s 2015 legislative session.

As the Virginia General Assembly enters the final days of its 2015 session, we can look back on five intense weeks.

Among the many issues our lawmakers labored over, a few were explosive enough to consistently make headlines. Energy policy was one of those issues thanks largely to electric utilities’ efforts to capitalize on worries about upcoming federal rules on carbon pollution.

Here’s a recap of the drama, along with a few important policies that received less fanfare.

>> First, a measure that shocked newspaper editorial boards, dismayed consumer groups, and stunned many of us who have challenged the utilities’ business-as-usual plans, but passed the legislature easily: under SB 1349, Virginia would see a five-year period when state regulators do not review rates set by Dominion Power and Appalachian Power, likely preventing any refunds of utility over-earnings to customers. The base portion of rates will be fixed, but other charges related to fuel costs can still rise during the period.

Political dynamics and election sensitivities made this legislation especially charged, and ultimately some of our top legislative champions for advancing clean energy stepped in and saw to it that the measure includes a designation for up to 500 megawatts of solar energy to be in the public interest, thereby authorizing state regulators to approve large scale solar farms — of which there are exactly zero in Virginia right now. The champs also added provisions for utilities to pay for low-income home weatherization programs.

Gov. McAuliffe signed the bill into law on Tuesday.

>> Last Wednesday, legislation passed both houses capping Virginia’s coal production and employment tax credits at $7.5 million annually. Appalachian Voices and other advocates have called for comprehensive study of whether such credits have their intended effects, including sustaining coal-related jobs in Southwest Virginia. A study by Downstream Strategies a few years ago suggests they do not. SB 741, which originally extended the tax credits by five years, is expected to come out of conference committee this week extending the credits for only two years while analysis is done by a reform-oriented panel.

>> On to one enormous highlight of the session: several bills containing extreme language against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan — aimed at reducing carbon pollution from power plants — never made it out of committee. One was an effort to empower the General Assembly to sue the EPA. Another bill that is still alive directs the state Department of Environmental Quality to consider concerns and take the input of legislators, and requires the General Assembly to express its approval of DEQ’s compliance plan in the form of a resolution.

>> Lastly, a bill based on a central concept of Gov. McAuliffe’s Energy Plan creates a Solar Energy Development Authority for Virginia. In spite of some legislators’ concerns about growing government, the promise of boosting job growth in the solar industry propelled this measure through both houses. A net energy metering expansion bill also still stands a good chance of passing.

With some great concepts like the Virginia Coastal Protection Act unable to find sufficient support in committee to pass this year, the work to pave the way for next year’s legislative efforts lies before us. Citizen contact with delegates and senators can continue year-round, and there are many ways to stay engage.

In addition to calling or writing your elected officials, enrolling in an energy-efficiency program offered by your power company or going solar sends a clear signal to our legislators about Virginia residents’ preferences and expectations on important energy policy issues.

“Clean coal” is on the fritz

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - posted by brian

By Brian Sewell

Cost overruns and construction delays are dampening enthusiasm for carbon capture and storage technologies

A rendering of FutureGen 2.0. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy pulled its funding from the project, which was intended to demonstrate the feasibility of carbon capture and storage technology on a commercial-scale. Credit Department of Energy.

A rendering of FutureGen 2.0. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy pulled its funding from the project, which was intended to demonstrate the feasibility of carbon capture and storage technology on a commercial-scale. Credit Department of Energy.

As one of the most high-profile and hyped-up projects of its kind, the FutureGen “clean coal” plant in Illinois was supposed make history. Its backers saw in it the key to unlocking an inherently dirty energy source’s promise in a world coming to grips with climate change.

So the announcement earlier this month that the U.S. Department of Energy is backing out of its $1.1 billion funding commitment to the FutureGen project, citing a desire to “protect taxpayer interests,” sent a shockwave through the coal sector and investors, energy analysts and environmentalists all took note.

But the news that “clean coal” technology has taken yet another hit should not come as a surprise. Even with $6 billion in commitments under the Obama administration, carbon capture projects just don’t have the track record needed to pique private investors’ interest.

Every form of carbon capture technology comes with technical and technological drawbacks that translate to enormous costs. A commercial-scale “clean coal” plant using even the most advanced technologies may increase the cost of electricity by up to 80 percent, according to DOE. These challenges make commercial-scale carbon capture projects outcasts when it comes to competitive energy markets, where traditional fossil fuel plants and, increasingly, large-scale and distributed renewable projects represent the most cost-effective power sources.

Convinced that coal will remain one of the nation’s foremost energy sources for decades to come, DOE will put billions more into advancing “clean coal” technology, attempting to overcome its economic pitfalls and keep burning the dirtiest fuel around.

FutureGen’s Downfall

FutureGen 2.0 planned to transport CO2 waste approximately 30 miles  through pipelines before being injected in deep saline formations.

FutureGen 2.0 planned to transport CO2 waste approximately 30 miles through pipelines before being injected in deep saline formations. Click to enlarge.

The idea for FutureGen arose in 2003 under the Bush administration. The plan was for the FutureGen Industrial Alliance, a coalition of mining and energy companies including Alpha Natural Resources and Peabody Energy, to oversee retrofits to an existing coal plant and, in the process, prove the feasibility of burning coal, then capturing and storing the carbon emitted underground.

But the project soon began suffering from the delays, cost overruns and other challenges that will be its legacy. FutureGen was canceled, for the first time, in 2008 before construction could begin.

In 2010, the Obama administration used stimulus money to give FutureGen new life as FutureGen 2.0, a smaller proposed plant that would use a different technology to capture its emissions, but still show how carbon capture could make a more climate-friendly coal plant. For a time, everything seemed to be going in FutureGen’s favor. But then familiar cracks started to appear.

The Illinois Commerce Commission approved a controversial plan in 2012 to require utilities, and therefore their customers, to buy all the electricity generated by the FutureGen plant for 20 years — likely at dramatically over-market rates. The decision may have reassured some private investors, but challenges to the decision by the utilities themselves were headed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The Sierra Club challenged the air pollution permit granted to FutureGen by the Illinois Pollution Control Board, saying the State of Illinois should hold FutureGen to its promise to build a “near-zero emissions” plant. FutureGen needed to convert a World War II-era boiler at the plant to one compatible with the oxy-combustion technology it planned use to capture its emissions. The Sierra Club argued that allowing FutureGen to convert the boiler would violate the federal Clean Air Act unless it obtained the appropriate permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

All of this is to say that the DOE isn’t entirely, or even mostly, responsible for FutureGen’s failure. Unresolved legal battles, environmental and economic concerns all combined to hurt the chances of attracting enough private investment to bring the $1.65 billion project online. It became clear that the project could not be completed by September 2015, the deadline for federal funds to be spent under the 2009 stimulus, so DOE pulled the plug.

According to DOE, approximately $116.5 million of the total award had been invested in the plant since 2010.

The Sierra Club, which has called FutureGen a boondoggle from the very beginning, said the news reflects a national trend toward embracing clean energy.

“This project has gone through a decade of false starts and with today’s announcement, $1 billion in federal funding and hundreds of thousands of dollars in Illinois ratepayer financing can be freed up for investment in clean energy,” Holly Bender, Deputy Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement.

Coal industry groups directed their frustrations toward the Obama administration and mostly overlooked the host of other challenges facing FutureGen.

Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, said in a statement that DOE’s decision to end funding for FutureGen “cannot be reconciled with the [Obama] administration’s proposal to require CCS as the only acceptable technology for any new coal-fueled power plant in the U.S.”

Proceed with Caution

A "first-of-its-kind" technologically speaking and the most expensive coal plant of all time, Mississippi Power's Kemper Plant has put ratepayers at risk in search of unproven and far-off returns. Photo from Wikipedia.

A “first-of-its-kind” technologically speaking and the most expensive coal plant of all time, Mississippi Power’s Kemper Plant has put ratepayers at risk in pursuit of unproven and far-off returns. Photo from Wikipedia.

Carbon capture is a must if future U.S. coal plants — if there is such a thing — hope to meet regulations on greenhouse gases being developed under the Clean Air Act.

Analysts say the only way to create a market for carbon capture technology, at least one that would attract significant private capital, is by capping power plant pollution. But groups like the National Mining Association lambast the president and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency for pursuing policies that will limit carbon pollution from power plants and steer investments toward alternative forms of energy, including “clean coal.”

Even with a strong climate policy, some experts doubt commercial-scale “clean coal” projects will be around in time to make a meaningful contribution to reducing carbon pollution. Sean Casten, the president and CEO of Recycled Energy Development, recently drew the comparison between the likelihood of the technology’s success and the existence of unicorns.

“I suppose it’s possible that there will suddenly be a huge pot of capital willing to invest billions of dollars in an unproven technology with long construction times and regulatory-dependent cash flows,” Casten told SNL Energy. “But unicorns are more likely.”

Another notable casualty is Tenaska’s $3.5-billion Taylorsville, Ill., plant, which the Nebraska-based energy developer canceled in 2013. The company cited market conditions that led it to focus on developing natural gas and renewable energy facilities instead. But the fact that Illinois lawmakers would not agree to a 30-year contract to buy electricity from the plant, and pass those high costs on to ratepayers, had something to do with it.

With the Taylorsville plant and FutureGen off the table, the U.S. is left with one utility-scale carbon capture project currently under construction. But Mississippi Power’s Kemper Plant, which received a $270 million grant from DOE, is like the projects before it: more of a cautionary tale than a positive sign for coal’s future.

Cost increases have been like clockwork at Kemper. Initially estimated to cost $2.2 billion, the price to build the plant has ballooned to $6.17 billion since 2009, making it the most expensive coal plant in U.S. history. Southern Company, the parent company of Mississippi Power, announced a $45 million increase this month.

$6 billion and counting: Cost increases at the Kemper Plant have been like clockwork since 2009.

$6 billion and counting: Cost increases at the Kemper Plant have been like clockwork since 2009. Graphic by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

To help pay the bill, the Mississippi Public Utilities Commission approved an 18 percent rate hike on Mississippi Power in March 2013, and the company says it’s likely to seek another increase of at least 4 percent to help pay off $1 billion in bonds that the state legislature is allowing it to issue.

“This is the largest rate increase in the state of Mississippi’s history, and this is the largest transfer of wealth from the people to a corporation in the state of Mississippi’s history,” Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley told Mississippi Watchdog in 2013.

Presley was the only dissenting vote when the commission approved the rate increase. But now the state’s highest court is on his side. Last week, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the rate increase after finding the utilities commission hadn’t ruled on the “prudency” of the Kemper Plant’s growing cost. The court directed Mississippi Power to refund ratepayers about $271 million attributed to the rate increase.

The Kemper plant is slated to open in mid-2016, more than two years behind schedule.

The quest to create a cleaner future for coal increasingly rests on the question of how much we’re willing pay for it.

Appalachian Voices Book Club

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - posted by allison

Appalachia’s triumphs and tragedies, its beauty and mystery, and its people’s tenacity, love and good humor have long been enshrined in fiction. This year, stories of the region’s struggles with coal are reaching a national audience thanks to John Grisham’s bestselling “Gray Mountain,” a legal thriller that pits a small but dedicated team of individuals against a rapacious coal industry. Also spreading awareness, the debut novel from Christopher Scotton weaves the impacts of mountaintop removal mining into a poignant story of humanity and healing.

Across the region, writers are offering brilliant new work of all stripes, including several don’t-miss endeavors reviewed here. We also take a look at the many ways regional writers are taking advantage of the freedoms afforded by the self-publishing movement.

To find more of the best recent writing on Appalachia, we suggest a visit to your local librarian!

Gray Mountain by John Grisham
GirlsAtomicCity
Turning_Carolina_Red-1

Virginia Climate Fever

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - posted by molly

How Global Warming Will Transform Our Cities, Shorelines, and Forests

By Stephen Nash

VA-climate-fever

As visiting senior research scholar at the University of Richmond, Stephen Nash explores the stunning local aspects of climate disruption. This digestible work employs enough facts and visuals to demonstrate the amount of damage that global warming promises for the Old Dominion.

Nash, a journalist, takes the reader with him as he travels around Virginia, talking with scientists, citizens, officials and business people. Through these encounters, Nash reveals that our temperature averages will gradually rise during the next hundred years, essentially turning Virginia into present-day Alabama. Graphs show increasing numbers of days with temperatures surpassing 90 degrees, with drastic consequences for life-forms from trees to fish, and to both rural and city-dwelling humans.

Nash’s most compelling passages deal with sea level rise and the increasingly formidable threat of property destruction in the Hampton Roads region. This trend could result in climate refugees as limited financial resources cover only the costs of protecting high-value infrastructure and leave homeowners behind.

Throughout the book, Nash compares two scenarios of human response to global warming, labeled “business as usual” and “work and hope,” while maintaining that Virginians are not entirely the masters of their fate because global warming is a problem that requires a global response.

This book is fact-based and never overstated, making it mandatory reading for Virginians seeking a primer on a complex topic. — Review by Hannah Wiegard, Appalachian Voices Virginia Campaign Coordinator

WV Repeals Changes to Climate Science Standards

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Chris Robey

Following a heated public rebuke, the West Virginia Board of Education reversed its decision to alter newly proposed national K-12 science education standards. The board’s alterations would have required West Virginia teachers to frame human-caused climate change as a debate rather than an accepted body of evidence.

Teachers and environmental groups denounced the alterations as an attempt to undermine peer-reviewed evidence of climate change.

The newly restored standards will be open for public comment until mid-February. In March, the board will vote on final standards for the 2016-17 school year. If adopted, the standards will mark the first time West Virginia students are required to study evidence supporting human-caused climate change.

The reversal comes just days after the conservation group, Friends of the Blackwater, released a report highlighting rising temperatures in the state’s Allegheny Highlands region. View the report, titled “On the Chopping Block,” at alleghenyclimate.org

White House moves to regulate methane emissions

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - posted by Kimber

By Brian Sewell

After years of scientific research pointing to methane’s outsized contribution to climate change, the Obama administration will use its executive power to regulate emissions of the potent greenhouse gas from oil and gas productions and pipelines.

In addition to developing the first-ever regulations to limit methane emissions, the White House described a set of actions it will take beginning this year to achieve a reduction in overall U.S. emissions by up to 45 percent by 2025. Without action, methane emissions are expected to rise dramatically over the next decade.

Several federal agencies will be involved, officials say, each targeting different aspects of the oil and gas industry. The Bureau of Land Management, for example, will update outdated standards to reduce wasteful flaring of natural gas, which is primarily methane, from oil and gas wells on public lands. And the Department of Transportation will propose new natural gas pipeline safety standards that are expected to lower methane leaked during transport.

Presented as the most significant step the White House has taken to address climate change since releasing rules to limit carbon dioxide, the rules were nonetheless met with some doubt by environmentalists. They apply only to new and modified oil and gas systems and will mostly rely on voluntary efforts from oil and gas companies.

But, under the Clean Air Act, once rules are developed targeting future sources of a specific pollutant, the EPA is legally obligated to issue rules to cut emissions from existing facilities spewing that pollutant too.

Oil and gas companies argue their financial motivation to reduce leaks eliminates the need for regulation. But energy analysts say contractors and smaller companies along the supply chain who don’t actually own the gas lack incentive to invest in better equipment and monitoring.

The escaped gas represents more than just lost profits. Methane is a major contributor to global climate change and is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide.

Methane makes up 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, about one-third of which comes from oil and gas production. Although its lifespan in the atmosphere is much shorter than that of carbon dioxide, methane’s contribution to climate change is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.

Getting methane emissions in check could be more urgent than previously thought. A 2014 study published in Science warned that methane may be leaking from oil and natural gas drilling sites and pipelines at rates 50 percent higher than official EPA estimates.